ASU + GSV Report: Teachers and Tech Tools

04/09/2015 04:29 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2015

The leading thought leaders, investors and pioneering practitioners of educational technology are convening in Scottsdale, Arizona this week for the annual ASU + GSV Summit.

Amidst thought-provoking keynotes and conversations from the likes of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof and freshly minted Oscar winner Common are candid discussions from teachers and administrators focused on selecting the right tech tools for blended learning in K-12 classrooms.

Administrators from public, charter and Montessori schools all have varying approaches, but agree that we are just scratching the surface in terms of what's possible. Two main themes discussed were collaboration between teachers, administrators and students, as well as the urgency in accessing standards-aligned content.

"It's not about how technology is used in the classroom, but how technology can help us do what we want to do," explained Michelle Bruce, director of technology and technology integration at KIPP Charter Schools, during a panel appropriately titled "Technology in Schools - Choose the Right Tools."

This often means not falling for "freebies" offered by developers in the form of give-away iPads and discounted licensing deals.

"There is a lot of risk," she said. "Sometimes you get lucky, but you don't want to rely on luck. Think about what you are trying to achieve, and then do the research to pick the right product."

Of course, more than one constituency needs to sign off on the product. Administrators need to ensure the product is economically feasible, teachers need to believe it promotes desired outcomes (increasingly aligned to Common Core and other Standards), and students need to engage and not feel as if the technology is being forced upon them.

"Students need to be both self-motivated and challenged," said Barton Dassinger, Principal at Chavez Multicultural Academic Center in Chicago. He added that success for a given technical resource is determined at "the very end of the school year when students achieve a certain program" established earlier in the year."

For Rebekah Kim, principal of Seattle's Midway Elementary school, the mission is very simple - identify digital resources to teach state standards. Her definition of educational equity is for for teachers to have access to aligned tools that provide the right data."

Keith Whitescarver, director of the National Center of Montessori in the public center, explained how technology needs to support teachers in their unique educational approach while also receiving "initial buy-in from a very wide-constituency."

Discovery Remains a Major Issue
While there were common themes regarding how to assess tools provided for consideration, discovering the best apps, videos and websites for digital education remains a major work in progress.

Al Motley, chief technology officer at Matchbook Learning, says his approach is to "scour what's out there and share" internally about once per month. This approach has helped him discover services like current events site Newsela, the hip-hop infused videos from Flocabulary, and government simulation games like iCivics.

"The best tools need to come from the ground up from the teacher level," he said.

While blogs, Pinterest boards, and social word of mouth help administrators help teachers identify some teacher-vetted and approved resources on a situational basis, there is a yearning for a more scalable search and discovery service that provides teacher-curated and standards-aligned resources for all PreK-12 subjects. It's also essential that schools have access to the tremendous volume of free resources, whether they be iOS, Android, videos or online.

Thankfully, administrators, teachers, students and others can access this information at the newly revamped appoLearning. They can search using natural language keywords by subject, grade-level and topic, and browse for the best resources by every Common Core State Standard. As well, teachers can choose to sort by and select from thousands of completely free resources. We are aggressively expanding on top of the several thousand teacher-vetted resources already searchable on appoLearning, and will soon allow teachers and administrators to curate and share their own favorites within the site.